Read the fine print. It’s good advice when you’re signing a contract. Often, unscrupulous people will try to hide details harmful to the signer in the teeny-tiny lettering buried in a contract, hoping people won’t see them. Of course, they may also phrase things in a vague way so as to be able to say they informed you, when they didn’t do so explicitly or clearly.
However, forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and being aware of the pitfalls enables you to watch out for them and avoid stumbling. That’s why, l’toelet harabim, for public benefit, I’m about to share a story with you which is a bit embarrassing to me, but can help you in life.
One morning I was parking in front of my shul. As I put the car in Park, I glanced down at an official-looking envelope on the gearshift. I’d brought it to my car to look at a few days prior, but had done nothing with it. Now, however, I had a sudden urge to know what it said inside. I should have been heading in to put on my tallit and tefillin, as davening had already started, but instead, I reasoned that it would take but a moment to open it, and then I’d be able to put this letter out of my mind.
I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I slit open the envelope and pulled out the papers to find the earth-shattering news that my insurance company had approved a few visits to the chiropractor (please, no medical opinions needed. That’s not the point of this piece. On top of that, he’s a nice fellow with whom I learn in the mornings.) What had happened was that I fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book.
You’ve heard curiosity killed the cat? Well, even if not, curiosity—that incessant need to know something—is one of the tools of the yetzer hara. Think about it. What did the snake in Gan Eden offer Chava? The chance to know something she didn’t know, though Hashem had told us it was none of our business. That was the attraction of the Aitz HaDa’at; it offered us insight we otherwise didn’t have and its attraction was hard to resist.Since that time, it’s been one of the principal tools of the shady one, since we keep falling for it.
We hear a noise and we want to look up and see what happened. That didn’t work out well for Dovid HaMelech, you may recall, who maintained a steady stream of Torah study on Shabbat, since he knew he was destined to die on Shabbat. On the day he was to die, the Malach HaMavet tried to take him but could not since Dovid was constantly learning. The Malach went and shook the branches of a large tree outside the palace. Dovid HaMelech went to investigate. As he did so, still reciting words of Torah as a protection, a step broke beneath his foot. He ceased learning for an instant and the Angel of Death was able to take him. (Shabbos 30b) [I’m sure the people there thought he died because he fell, but we know better!]
When you hear a conversation, your ears naturally perk up and want to hear what’s going on. Even if you’re not currently doing something else which needs your focus like davening or learning, you should be on the alert that it’s often not your business, may be lashon hara, and there is probably a bit of evil inclination behind your sudden interest. That could be reason enough to tune it out.
Of course, curiosity in and of itself is not negative. It’s a natural instinct that has valuable benefits. It led Avraham Avinu to find the Creator, and leads to greater understanding in everything from Torah to scientific breakthroughs. But it can be used against you, and that’s why I’m writing now.
In my case, the minute I opened the letter, I knew I’d been gotten. I found out what I wanted to know, but it was rather unimportant. And it was too late. That was twenty seconds I’d never get back in my life. I’d been offered a chance to defy the yetzer hara and do what I was supposed to, but I didn’t do it. He got me again. However, being honest enough to admit I’d been had, I was also smart enough to know this was something worth sharing.
My hope is that anyone reading this, thereby using that natural thirst for information and knowledge properly, will be able to put this lesson into practice themselves. When your spouse is on the phone, you won’t ask what they’re talking about. When you see a group of people huddled around the water cooler chatting animatedly about the latest gossip or happening, you’ll know that maybe you don’t really want to know. Before you inquire further, you’ll ask yourself whether this is something you should be delving into, or whether it’s a stumbling block disguised as an opportunity.
By looking at the situation with open eyes, you’ll be better able to see the telltale calling card of the primordial snake, gesturing to you with a knowing wink, sure that he’ll ensnare you and draw you in. But he won’t, because what you know about his tricks will more than outweigh what you don’t know about whatever it is he wants you to ask about. And if, once in a while, it doesn’t? Then at least you will remember what I’ve written here, and be able to steel yourself against any attacks in the future.
You can do it. Trust me, I know.
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